Between the Predators’ playoff run to Vanderbilt’s historic football season (as well as its usual successes in basketball and baseball) to the Titans to Goodlettsville’s magical run through the Little League World Series, it’s been a great year for Nashville sports. Chris Lee breaks down the best of Nashville’s year.
Best team: Goodlettsville Little League baseball team
It was a banner year for Nashville sports teams. The Predators finished with the fifth-most points in the NHL in the regular season, and beat the Red Wings in a playoff series. Vanderbilt’s basketball team beat Kentucky for the Southeastern Conference Tournament title and finished in the Top 20, and its football team was a huge story, winning eight games (with a chance for a ninth on Monday) including five in the SEC. VU’s women also made the NCAAs, as did VU’s baseball team. Christ Presbyterian Academy’s boys basketball team went 37-2 and its girls, 36-3, with each winning the state’s AA title. Ensworth’s football team went 13-0 and ranked fifth nationally in USA Today’s top 25, with Corn Elder leading the way – other than Memphis University school, no team came within 20 of the Tigers.
However, Goodlettsville’s Little Leaguers captured the nation’s hearts by winning the American World Series Crown with a 24-16 victory over the Petaluma (Calif.) squad behind three home runs from second baseman Lorenzo Butler. Japan bested Goodlettsville in the World Championship game, but nobody will forget Butler and superstar pitchers Brock Myers and Jake Rucker and their accomplishments. The entire team would later be named the grand marshal for Nashville’s Christmas parade.
Best player: Shea Weber, Predators
The Predators’ magical season may have ended in the conference semifinal, but Nashville’s hockey team has become an annual threat to do some damage in the NHL’s post-season because of its stellar defense. While goalie Pekka Rinne has been stellar and departed defenseman Ryan Suter has as well, it was Shea Weber who garnered Nashville’s only first-team All-NHL selection that year. That’s quite an honor, considering there are just six men on that team.
Weber was an iron man for the Predators, finishing fifth in the league among skaters in ice time (26:09), posting a plus-21 rating, scoring 19 goals and handing out 30 assists. Weber’s value to the Predators is such that after the season, the franchise signed him to a 14-year, $110-million contract.
Honorable mentions go to Suter and Rinne, Vanderbilt basketball player Jeffery Taylor (16.1 ppg, and tremendous defense), Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews (a school-record 1,262 receiving yards), and Ensworth’s Elder (2,617 rushing yards, 38 TDs).
Best coach: James Franklin, Vanderbilt football, and Drew Maddux, CPA basketball
It’s rare that Vanderbilt football goes to bowls, but second-year coach James Franklin has been so good, it’s about to become an expectation. After last year’s unexpected Liberty Bowl bid was just VU’s second since 1982, the Commodores followed up with an 8-4 season that included a five-win SEC campaign. It was VU’s first eight-win season since 1982 and its first five-win conference year since 1935. If Franklin’s team can win the Music City Bowl over North Carolina State next week, it’ll be VU’s first nine-win season since 1915.
What coach Drew Maddux has done at Christ Presbyterian Academy has been just as impressive. The Lions were nowhere on anybody’s basketball radar, but when the former Vanderbilt hoopster took over at CPA, the same kids who played for Maddux on the AAU circuit decided they wanted to play for him in high school, too. Maddux has gone an incredible 169-39 coming into this season, and with future college basketball players like Jalen Lindsey and Jake Allsmiller, they should be bringing home more trophies this spring, too.
Best upset: TSU over Murray State (basketball)
On the morning of February 10, 23-0 Murray State was college basketball’s only unbeaten team, and was ranked No. 9 in the country. The streak would end that night, as Tennessee State came to Murray and shocked the Racers by a 72-69 score. Robert Covington had 18 points and eight rebounds, and the TSU bench out-scored its Murray counterparts by a 30-10 count.
Best game: Vanderbilt beats Kentucky in the SEC Basketball Tournament
A 32-1 Kentucky squad was ranked No. 1 in the country. It had won 14 of the last 25 SEC Tournament titles, and when it led Vanderbilt by seven with 5:22 to play, No. 15 seemed inevitable. But the Commodores went on a 14-1 run over the next few minutes, with the key play being freshman Kedren Johnson’s three-point play with less than two minutes left to give VU a 65-62 lead, and VU hung on to win, 71-64 over the eventual national champions.
Best play: Vanderbilt’s triple steal against Florida
I have, in my lifetime, watched all or parts of thousands of baseball games, but on May 27 of this year, I saw something I have never seen before, and may never see again: a simultaneous steal of second, third and home in Vanderbilt’s SEC Tournament game against arch-nemesis Florida.
To set the stage: the Commodores had just stunned the Gators and superstar closer Austin Maddox by turning a 4-3, ninth-inning deficit into a 5-4 lead, and still had the bases loaded with freshman Will Cooper at the plate and two outs. Junior shortstop Anthony Gomez took a lead off third base, and had been conversing with coach Tim Corbin (stationed in the third-base coaching box) about timing Maddox’s delivery to the plate.
Corbin has instructed the dugout to time Maddox’s next pitch to get a gauge on whether Gomez might have time to swipe home on a future pitch, when Gomez decided he didn’t need a stopwatch to tell him he could make it. Before Maddox even released the next pitch, Gomez was on a dead sprint for home. UF catcher Mike Zunino never even saw Gomez, not that it mattered since for Gomez slid and touched home with his foot about the time Zunino got the ball.
While the Gators took a second or two to digest the shock of what just happened, Conrad Gregor took off for third, and Spencer Navin, for second. Zunino’s throw went to second, but it was too late. Cooper would later smack an 0-2 pitch to right for two more runs, and the Commodores eventually won the game, 8-6.